UNITED NATIONS - More civilians died in Afghanistan in 2014 than in any year since the year the UN began keeping records in 2009, signalling a new level of violence and ground engagements between Taliban insurgents and the embattled Kabul-based government.
 A total of 3,699 civilians were killed and 6,849 injured in 2014, the United Nations said Wednesday. The figures in the Annual Report on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict and prepared in coordination with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, are the highest number of civilian casualties recorded in a single year since the UN started keeping track in 2009.
The report also found that for the first time since 2009, more Afghan civilians were killed and injured in ground engagements than improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Civilian deaths and injuries from ground operations surged 54 per cent in 2014. Parties to the conflict are increasingly using mortars, rockets and grenades, sometimes indiscriminately, in civilian areas. ‘Rising civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 attests to a failure to fulfil commitments to protect Afghan civilians from harm,’ the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), Nicholas Haysom, said Wednesday as he presented the report in Kabul.
‘Parties to the conflict should understand the impact of their actions and take responsibility for them, uphold the values they claim to defend, and make protecting civilians their first priority. We need to see concrete steps and a real drop in civilian casualties in 2015,’ Haysom stressed further. The UNAMA report highlighted that 'Anti-Government Elements' remain responsible for 72 per cent of all civilian casualties. Meanwhile, Pro-Government Forces are responsible for 14 per cent of civilian casualties with 12 per cent of that linked to the Afghan national security forces and two per cent to international military forces. Ten per cent of civilian casualties could not be attributed to a specific party and three per cent were caused by explosive remnants of war.
Meanwhile, ten percent of all casualties could not be clearly attributed to either side. The NATO mission in Afghanistan, named Resolute Support, condemned the Taliban for their "total disregard for human life".
Resolute Support said it was working closely with Afghan forces to reduce civilian casualties in the future.
The report also documented a 40 percent increase in casualties among children (714 killed, 1,760 injured) compared with the previous year and a 21 percent rise in casualties among women (298 killed, 611 injured).
The report underlined the dire social and economic consequences of civilian losses on Afghan society.
The deaths or injuries of men often leave their wives as the sole breadwinner, forcing them to marry off daughters or take children out of school to work.
"For Afghan women and children, the anguish of losing a husband and father in the conflict is often only the beginning of their suffering and hardship," said UNAMA Director of Human Rights Georgette Gagnon. "Rising civilian deaths and injuries in 2014 attests to a failure to fulfil commitments to protect Afghan civilians from harm," added UNAMA head Nicholas Haysom. "Parties to the conflict should understand the impact of their actions and take responsibility for them, uphold the values they claim to defend, and make protecting civilians their first priority."
The Taliban dispute the UN figures, which attribute the majority of casualties to their fighters, and have repeatedly stated their desire to limit the loss of civilian life. In its recommendations, UNAMA urged the Taliban to cease its use of IEDs, while asking government forces to stop using mortars and rockets in densely populated areas. It also demanded Kabul disband government militias and hold accountable those members of armed groups who carry out rights abuses.
The annual summer "fighting season" in 2014 was particularly intense for the country, coinciding with the phased withdrawal of NATO forces by December and a protracted political crisis triggered by a fraud-marred presidential election.
The next season, due to begin in April or May, will be the first without the presence of foreign combat troops and is seen as a crucial test for Afghan forces.
Local troops this week launched a pre-emptive offensive in southern Afghanistan, with the Taliban responding with its own attacks that killed 26 policemen on Monday and Tuesday.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has called on the Taliban to negotiate for peace, but the militants have thus far refused to hold direct talks with his government.